Jan. 5, 2010 – It is well known that humans naturally process facial expression along with what is being heard to fully understand what is being communicated. The UBC study is the first to show we also naturally process tactile information to perceive sounds of speech.

Prof. Bryan Gick of UBC’s Dept. of Linguistics, along with PhD student Donald Derrick, found that air puffs directed at skin can bias perception of spoken syllables. “This study suggests we are much better at using tactile information than was previously thought,” says Gick, also a member of Haskins Laboratories, an affiliate of Yale University.

The study, published in Nature November 26, offers findings that may be applied to telecommunications, speech science and hearing aid technology.

English speakers use aspiration — the tiny bursts of breath accompanying speech sounds — to distinguish sounds such as “pa” and “ta” from unaspirated sounds such as “ba” and “da.” Study participants heard eight repetitions of these four syllables while inaudible air puffs — simulating aspiration — were directed at the back of the hand or the neck.

When the subjects — 66 men and women — were asked to distinguish the syllables, it was found that syllables heard simultaneously with air puffs were more likely to be perceived as aspirated, causing the subjects to mishear “ba” as the aspirated “pa” and “da” as the aspirated “ta.” The brain associated the air puffs felt on skin with aspirated syllables, interfering with perception of what was actually heard.

It is unlikely aspirations are felt on the skin, say the researchers. The phenomenon is more likely analogous to lip-reading where the brain’s auditory cortex area activates when the eyes see lips move, signaling speech. From the brain’s point of view, you are “hearing” with your eyes.

“Our study shows we can do the same with our skin, “hearing” a puff of air, regardless of whether it got to our brains through our ears or our skin,” says Gick.

Future research may include studies of how audio, visual and tactile information interact to form the basis of a new multi-sensory speech perception paradigm. Additional studies may examine how many kinds of speech sounds are affected by air flow, offering important information about how people interact with their physical environment.

Every day, almost 140 million Americans experience noise levels that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes as “annoying
or disruptive.”(xiv) Karen A. Bilich writes that children “are especially vulnerable to noise induced hearing loss – which often happens gradually and without pain – from overexposure to noise.”(xv) Almost 15 percent of children ages 6 to 17 show signs of hearing loss, according to a 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, at this time there are no federal regulations in the United States that limit the noise levels of toys. The European standard is inadequate because it sets the sound threshold too high at 115 decibels, at which an exposure of less than 30 seconds can cause hearing loss. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that prolonged exposure to sounds at 85 decibels or higher can result in hearing damage (xvi). The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Campaign for Hearing Health also use 85 decibels as a threshold for dangerous levels of noise. The National Campaign for Hearing Health, in its Toxic Noise Guidelines, lists the following relationships between decibel levels and times of exposure (xvii):

• 85 decibels: Exposure over an 8-hour period risks hearing loss.
• 90 decibels: Exposure for 2 hours risks hearing loss.
• 97 decibels: Exposure for 30 minutes risks hearing loss.
• 100 decibels: Exposure for 15 minutes risks hearing loss.
• 110 decibels: Exposure for less than 2 minutes risks hearing loss
• 120 decibels: Exposure less than 30 seconds risks hearing loss.
• 130 decibels: Any exposure risks permanent hearing loss.

Standards for Loud Toys
As of November 2003, The American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) finalized specifications for sound-producing toys that include (1) limiting the sound pressure level of hand-held, table-top and crib toys to a level not to exceed 90dB when measured from a distance of 25 centimeters; (2) limiting the sound pressure level of close-to-the-ear toys to a level not to exceed 70dB when measured from a distance of 25 centimeters; (3) limiting the sound pressure level of toys with impact-type impulsive sounds to a level not to exceed 120dB when measured from a distance of 25 centimeters; (4) limiting the sound pressure level of toys with explosive-type impulsive sounds to a level not to exceed 138dB when measured from a distance of 25 centimeters.

There are numerous exceptions to the standards(xviii) and the standards are voluntary. The standards, while a solid step in the right direction, are flawed (xix) and should be strengthened and stronger standards should be enforced by the CPSC.

This year, NYPIRG researchers identified numerous toys that were dangerously loud. For example, a surveyor identified a toy called “Learn Through Music” manufactured by Fisher Price that produces noise at 102dB at 10 centimeters and 92dB at 25 centimeters.

Fisher Price’s “Learn Through Music” is a dangerously loud toy targeted to very young children


To protect children from dangerously loud toys, NYPIRG supports the recommendations of the League for the Hard of Hearing: (1) If a toy sounds too loud for you in the store, don’t buy it. Children are even more sensitive to sound than adults. (2) Put tape over the speakers of any toys you already own that are too loud. This will reduce the noise levels of the toys. (3) Remove the batteries from loud toys. (4) Report a loud toy to the CPSC.

CPSC should: (1) Enforce the new ASTM standards to the fullest extent. (2) Consider strengthening the standards to be more protective of children’s delicate ears. Specifically, CPSC should consider lowering the threshold for hand-held toys from 90 dB to no higher than 85 dB.

Hello everyone! Here’s my first blog!

RNL Bio, a South Korean company, claims to have helped improve hearing sensitivity in a student with hearing loss due to autoimmune disease .  A little over a year ago, this company cloned two dogs, magic and stem, from fat (adipose)-derived stem cells.

Adipose derived stem cells may have great potential for therapeutics to treat Alzheimer, diabetes, osteoarthritis and many other degenerative and obstinate diseases.

In addition to stem cell related therapy, RNL Bio has led the way in the banking of stem cells.  This kind of reminds me of Dr. Evil and his cryogenically preserved self. As the demand for preservation or banking of stem cells are rapidly growing. Stem cell banking has great business potential because it can be used not only for therapeutics to treat diseases but future cloning intention. RNL Bio operates stem cell banks for human individuals as well as dogs.

Please join me in welcoming two new contributors to the HearingAidDocs Blog:

COSkiEar – Don is a Doctor of Audiology who can’t get enough of the ski slopes in CO.  Any given day, you can find him at one of 3 places: his office, Chipotle, or Vail Ski Resort.  Dr. Don will be contributing all sorts of knowledge in our blog: from how to clean your ears appropriately to communication tips in the mountains.

Dr4Ears – Justin is also a Doctor of Audiology who can bring you side of hearing loss that most Audiologists can’t.  Dr. Justin was born with a progressive form of hearing impairment called Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome (EVAS, aka LVAS).  His empathetic approach to counseling brings in his own experiences growing up with hearing loss.

If you have any questions for them, please feel free to comment on their future blog posts!  Or if you have any topics you’d like for us to cover, please let us know!

Thank you and have a wonderful holiday season!

Warmest Regards,

HearingAidDocs Team

Ah…. Holiday season is here! It’s a time for reconnecting with family and friends. But for the hard of hearing individual, this may be the time of year they want to avoid. Not because they don’t like family or friends; it’s because having a conversation in a noisy environment may be a daunting and sometimes embarrassing experience for some. Would you like to know how to communicate in a more effective way? Well, read on…

Here are some tips provided by The Cleveland Clinic Foundation

Although hearing aids are usually very beneficial, they, alone, may not enable the person with hearing loss to communicate successfully in all listening situations. As a family member or friend of a person with hearing loss, you can help make the most of hearing aids by following a few simple suggestions. Remember, communication involves at least two individuals: a talker who sends the message and a listener who receives the message.

Gain attention
Gain the listener’s attention before you begin talking, for example, by saying his or her name. Face him or her and make eye contact. If necessary, touch the listener’s hand, arm, or shoulder lightly. This simple gesture will prepare the listener to listen and allow him or her to hear the first part of the conversation.

Maintain eye contact
Visual communication is very important. Your facial expressions and body language add vital information to the communication. For example, you can “see” a person’s anger, frustration, and excitement by watching the expression on his or her face. Most listeners make use of lip-reading, naturally. By lip-reading, you can understand some sounds that are more difficult to hear. Lip-reading helps us understand speech, especially in difficult listening situations.

Hands off
When talking, try to keep your hands away from your face. Maintain good manners by not talking with food in your mouth. If you are a smoker, hold the cigarette in your hands while talking. You will produce clearer speech and allow the listener to make use of those visual cues.

Speak naturally
Speak distinctly, but without exaggeration. You do not need to shout. Shouting actually distorts the words. Try not to mumble, as this is very hard to understand, even for people with normal hearing. Speak at a normal rate, not too fast or too slow. Use pauses rather than slow speech to give the person time to process speech.

Rephrase, rather than repeat
If the listener has difficulty understanding something you said, find a different way of saying it. If he or she did not understand the words the first time, it’s likely he or she will not understand them a second time. So, try to rephrase it.

Reduce background noise
Try to reduce background noises when conversing. Turn off the radio or television. Move to a quiet corner or away from the noise source. When going to a restaurant or making dinner reservations, ask for a table away from the kitchen, server stations, or large parties. Take control of the environment; do not let it control you.

Classic use of irony.

New Poll

Just curious….

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